This will hopefully be an insightful part of our Grant Morrison Reading Project and a continuation of my own Bat-Journey. As I gather some references and take some notes before I delve deep into the Morrisonian version of the Greater DCU, I want to look at Final Crisis Sketchbook (Jl'08) which came out the same time as FC #1. It contains, naturally, some sketches by J.G. Jones and comments by Grant Morrison in this comic book version of a DVD extra. Some highlights, note-wise:

  • Darkseid--he appears to be "ossifying" and is in great pain. He is the shadow of decay!
  • Desaad-torturer of the gods and a hidden cross-dresser. Which gives certain scenes from JLA some unintentional comic visions!
  • The Black Racer-from goofy to frightening!
  • Terrible Turpin-- "Jack Kirby as drawn by Frank Miller"
  • Orion- No longer the Dog of War but the Soldier of the New Gods. His symbol is the sun!
  • Mister Miracle-he is the same one from Seven Soldiers! I'm going to have to finish that soon!
  • Kamandi-- how does the Last Boy on Earth fit in with Kirby's Fourth World?
  • The Forever People--- from Hippies to Goth?
  • Libra- nice to know that Grant and I read the same comics as kids!!
  • The Monitors--bridging the two Crises! Cosmic soap opera!
  • Big Science Action-- Morrison's Japanese JLA. The Silver Age meets Anime!
  • Super Young Team-- interesting combinations of classic DC heroes with a modern twist but these teen heroes are annoying!

Everyone please feel free to comment on this as I want this to be, as Figs believes, the culmination of the Post Crisis DCU that deserves to be celebrated!

Next: Who is the God Destroyed? or Just the Cosmic Facts, Ma'am!

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I don't think they would have any problem with that at all. Thank you! I forget sometimes how great this series was.

Michael Aronson said:

Not to step on the toes of the great work done by Figs and Phillip, but if no one objects, I might continue their FC analysis. I don't know how many people actually read these threads, but I came upon it after searching for analyses of Morrison series. I've read other sites. Some do a good job, but many inexplicably end midway through various runs. Given that Morrison's themes often don't become apparent until he reaches his conclusions, this is a shame.

So given my own desire to see completed analyses of his works, I'm gonna try picking up the baton. 

Final Crisis: Submit

Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Matthew Clark

Every time I reread this issue in the middle of my Final Crisis tpb collection, I find myself repeating the question: "Why does this issue even exist?" Though written by GM himself, it's far more decompressed than any of the other issues included in this collection, the art is a significant step down from the likes of Jones and Manke, and its significance barely registers in the grand scheme of the event.

If I recall correctly, there was a planned month's hiatus in between FC #3 and #4, to coincide with the narrative shift once Darkseid takes over, not to mention to give Jones (and his eventual co-artists) a chance to catch up and prevent unintended delays. Despite this forward planning, this issue feels like it was commissioned at the last minute. Given the extreme lengths GM goes to in order to plan out his stories (notes and sketches for FC allegedly began in 2004, four years before publication, and for Multiversity, six years or longer), it may be noteworthy as an example of GM scripting by the seat of his pants.

It's also a rare example of GM elaborating on the adventures of two characters - Black Lightning and the Tattooed Man - he neither personally created nor revamped, but whom he chose as main players for FC to put forth a more diverse cast. Given that Green Arrow ends up playing a similar role and suffering a similar fate to Black Lightning in FC #4, the reasoning behind favoring BL over GA for the one-shot seems obvious.

Since we've essentially reached the midway point in FC, at which point our heroes are at their lowest, one assumes the heroes are going to bounce back and reap victory in the end, and so there might be a kernel of a clue in Submit to suggest how they will achieve this. Maybe Submit will be the story that sets up the themes and the process to triumph in the end. It does, to a very small degree. 

It's more of a lens that expands on the nature of Darkseid's takeover, much in the way that a tie-in issue to a standard event series, such as GM's own JLA #1,000,000, usually looks into a tiny aspect of a larger story. It's pretty much a tale of a hero's submission, and not much else. Maybe the art fails to get across GM's imagery and symbolism. Maybe I'm a bad reader. In any case, it distinctly comes up short in clearing the high bar FC has been setting for storytelling.

Anyway, let's get started. This'll be broken up over a couple posts.

Page 1

I'm at a loss as to what's crisscrossing the earth. Is it the light trail of the Ray, making deliveries in FC #4? Have the Alpha Lanterns cordoned off the planet? Interestingly, Mrs. Richards (we never learn her first name!) explicitly sends out an S.O.S., a keyword that has popped up throughout GM's work and is spelled out for readers in The Multiversity #2 as the masterword that unlocks the cubes that allow people to crisscross the multiverse. While no such dimension-crossing occurs in Submit, the light pattern crossing the earth has the same design as the cubes from Multiversity. In any event, GM is greatly interested in the magical power of words, and language/knowledge is the means by which the heroes triumph at the end of FC, so at the very least, it's reasonable to assume that Mrs. Richards has invoked her own eventual rescue. This, from inside the classroom of a school or university, a haven for them of more than just knowledge.

Pages 2 - 5

An extended (given the compression of FC proper) and sloppily illustrated action sequence of Black Lightning being persued by and eluding giant hounds.

He's carrying a paper satchel filled with Daily Planet newspapers (more in FC #4), which disappears by the last panel of this sequence and never turns up or is mentioned again, but this symbol is enough to clearly connect him to GM's other favorite lightning-themed messenger icons, the Flash and Captain Marvel, as well as Metron himself. Black Lightning is another thematic Hermes, whose central role in this story is to pass along information so crucial that it will ultimately break the hold of evil over the earth.

Final Crisis: Submit (continued)

Pages 6 - 7

Mark Richards, the third Tattooed Man, and his unnamed son have taken refuge in a clothing store. Outside, two men with glowing eyes pass by, presumably victims/slaves of the Anti-Life Equation. Yet at the bottom of the page we see civilians outside without glowing eyes. Given that I'm reading from the trade collection which fixed certain errors in the original printing, this doesn't seem like a mistake. Oh well. You'd think that with attack hounds, Justifiers, and Anti-Life zombies roaming around, the remaining free populace would be a little more discreet.

Kid Richards sees Black Lightning outside and describes him as "not one of them under that suit. He's some dude like us!" It's difficult to know how to read this. One would imagine, given the choice of cast for this particular issue, that the kid identifies with Black Lightning because he's black, as he was the first solo black superhero DC published, and the DC pantheon for the most part is as white as they come (hence his and his father's initial distrust of superheroes, ala the classic O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern vol. 2 #76).

But the problem is Black Lightning isn't really "under" a suit. It's a single piece of spandex with a domino mask. You can clearly see he's black in the suit, let alone under it. Hell, "black" is part of his name! If the kid was so concerned about the lack of black superheroes, it's weird he wouldn't know about Black Lightning until midway through the apocalypse. 

It's also possible he just means Black Lightning isn't a Justifier. That seems a more pressing concern to them at present. 

Pages 6 - 7

These next pages serve to highlight the weaknesses of the artist. The Justifiers have cornered Black Lightning, with an attack hound literally on top of him. Despite the decompressed nature of this story, the pages showing the pursuers gaining the upper hand have been omitted, much like the subjugation of the Martian Manhunter and Batman. This is how evil manifests itself in the story itself, by cutting directly to the failure of the heroes and denying them action scenes in which to triumph.

Richards and son step in, shooting the dog in the neck with . . . bullets? Bats? The kid's statement makes it sound like he hasn't fired a shot yet, but it's unclear what kind of living tattoo would act as bullets. The dog literally topples on Black Lightning, threatening to suffocate him. Nice plan there.

One Justifier holds out a Justifier helmet meant for Black Lightning, but then seemingly discards it after the dog is shot. We see a single panel at the end of the falling helmet. It's unclear what this panel is for, or why so much attention is given to one helmet. They can always bring more (and they do). 

Pages 8 - 9

I said earlier that the satchel full of newspapers disappeared for the rest of the story. Whoops, it just disappeared for 4 and 1/2 pages. Did I mention the art was bad?

On page 9, Black Lightning refers to "a world that doesn't even belong to us anymore, to which Mark Richards replies, "The world never belonged to people like me, superhero." Yet another potentially racially charged statement that doesn't make sense as a response to Black Lightning. Who are "people like" the Tattooed Man? Does he mean criminals? Given the alliance of so many criminals with Libra and the Society, the world very much belongs to people like him at this point in the story. If he's speaking racially, is he accusing Black Lightning of being a Super Uncle Tom? Does Black Lightning neglect the black community when he's saving the world with the Justice League? Do only white elites benefit from the League's heroics?

It's weird that in a series that gave us a black President Superman, GM would riddle this chapter with such vague and logically muddled statements on race.

Also, the Origin of Species and book burning. Not particularly subtle symbolism.

Pages 10 - 13

It's been two weeks since Darkseid took over. Whether that's the point at which the Anti-Life Equation was broadcast out (in FC #3) or a few days later, we don't know. All we know is things went to hell pretty quickly in two short weeks.

Black Lightning confirms that he received the S.O.S. from page 1. How he received it and how getting trampled by an attack hound was his method of responding to it, who knows, but he's with the Richards family now, anyway. Does an incarnation of the messenger god receive messages just as easily as send them?

He warns that the Justifiers would receive the S,O,S, too, They did. Final Crisis is a battle between Anti-Life and knowledge, a war of language and fire. Darkseid's forces are formidable when it comes to wielding knowledge-canceling information.

Mark Richards threatens Black Lightning with a gun. Does he loathe superheroes so much that he prefers to abstain from using his own powers?

Killer Croc is the only identifiable unique villain in this story. This suggests he didn't go along with Libra's plan, or was never even included. How convenient that they happened to have a crocodile-shaped Justifier helmet on hand.

Richards's wife and daughter ask Black Lightning about his family and whether his daughters are also superheroes (they are). With barely any context or backstory, it's hard to figure out why the Richards family treats superheroes with such contempt. The head of your family was a criminal, guys. He attacks people with animated animal tattoos. And even if Richards were some altruistic criminal, breaking the law to save his family, how is that applicable to an end-of-the-world scenario in which superheroes are the best bet for the world's salvation? These are the kinds of themes Morrison might have fun playing with in a four-issue miniseries, rather than a last-minute schedule fill-in.

Pages 14 - 19

Another decompressed action sequence, this time a chase scene. Black Lightning drives the Richards family to safety in a school bus while Justifiers pursue them on attack hounds. In their helmets, full-body outfits, and white steeds, the Justifiers mirror the Atomic Knights who appeared in FC #3. 

Several police cars, presumably driven by Justifiers, take over the pursuit. Why are they driving police cars? The Justifies repeat mindless garbage broadcast into the helmets, as seen more explicitly when the Human Flame is converted. Are we to believe these mindless drones are nevertheless skilled and aggressive drivers? Is the pursuit of police supposed to mirror Mark Richards' experiences in a Darkseid-less world? And how would a school bus be able to outpace police vehicles?

Black Lightning taps into his Convenient Lightning Powers to short out the pursuing vehicles, but not the bus.

Final Crisis: Submit (continued)

Pages 20 - 21

Blacking Lightning taunts Tattooed Man about his kids, "What's up, Mister Richards? Scared they might turn into superheroes?" By betraying the race metaphor, and suggesting homophobia (e.g. "exposing your children to gay people with turn them gay"), it becomes clear that GM is suggesting a type of bigotry toward superheroes that's not perfectly analogous with real-world bigotry. Again, it deserves far more development than it receives in these pages.

"I'm sorry you can't see past my costume." That's cute.

Kid Richards refers to Black Lightning as a teacher, further hammering home his messenger deity status, the deliverer of knowledge.

Pages 22 - 23

Black Lightning: "We're not about the names people call us, we're about what we do." And, " . . . leave the labels to history and the media." These are just insightful observations that seem more relevant in an era in which fake news confuses a misinformed populace and people who think they hate Obamacare are afraid to have the Affordable Care Act neutered. Sorry for the politics, but this seemed to be a particularly political statement on GM's part.

Black Lightning gives Richards the pattern that Metron passed down to Anthro in FC #1. We don't know exactly how Black Lightning learned about it or what it does, but Kamandi seemed aware it was a "weapon" in FC #2, and Cave Carson discovered it in FC #3, and here, "This sign began to appear all over the world before all this started." Fair enough. Much like Superman and the Miracle Machine in FC #6, Richards is told to memorize the circuit in order to reconstruct it himself. 

Black Lightning clarifies the nature of Darkseid's assault on earth: "Our entire world, our reality, is transforming into the broken, deranged physical expression of a monstrous, alien will and we all have to fight it." My interpretation of the somewhat broken, seemingly jumpy and unresolved individual scenes in the first three issues of Final Crisis was that evil, having won, was actually upsetting the very nature of storytelling as we know it (or as we had come to expect it). It's not uncommon for writers to summarize their larger epics in small and slight interludes, and that's exactly what GM does here. Darkseid's assault warps reality itself, not merely in how it summons Mandrakk or results in Uberfraulein suddenly dead on Earth-1, but how it corrupts the fabric of the comic itself, how the omission of fight scenes such as the abduction of the Martian Manhunter could have been the very means by which evil triumphed over the heroes. The very fact that FC #1 begins after evil has allegedly already won goes to support this.

As we learn later in Multiversity, it's entirely possible that this Darkseid isn't the only Darkseid (and this story itself features at least three incarnations of Darkseid), as Darkseid himself is a manifestation of a greater evil, and Mandrakk himself is waiting in the wings, exploiting the damage Darkseid had done. So whether Darkseid is the cause of the manifestation of evil or if he's but one such manifestation himself, it's not yet clear. Certainly, given the thread from Darkseid that connects The Return of Bruce Wayne, RIP, Batman and Robin, and Seven Soldiers, the extent of Darkseid-induced damage alone has been massive.

Pages 24 - 25

A succession of scenes in which the art lets us down again. Black Lightning is shot in the arm by Kid Richards (belatedly named Leon). Somehow an arm bullet wound is serious enough for Black Lightning to stay behind and sacrifice himself while the Richards family escapes without him, yet they stay behind and watch him get captured by the justified Killer Croc. Kid Richards says "I don't know." It's not in response to anything, so I don't know either.

Page 26

The page begins with Mrs. Richards, ". . . that was the last thing we saw." This implies she's been narrating this entire tale, which is why most of the scenes have been present (any jumpiness in the storytelling I attribute to shoddy art). Storytelling is one of the few ways in which our heroes have managed to resist Darkseid, or at least escape subjugation. If the omission of scenes leads to subjugation, the narration itself sees the characters to safety. 

"The Omega Initiative" is mentioned, but I don't recall it turning up again in the story. I presume this refers to the Battle of Bludhaven. It is a little odd, though perhaps graciously subtle, that although this is the first story in which Darkseid appears adorned with the omega symbol (outside of Rock of Ages, regarded by many as a proto-Final Crisis), references to "omega" itself are almost nonexistent. Probably for the best that GM avoided dredging up the Omega Men for FC. 

Pages 27 - 28

"Fire needs no teacher! Flame needs no instruction! Anti-Life justifies my ignorance!"

These lines summarize the antithesis of Final Crisis. Metron was the teacher that gave man fire, in the form of knowledge. Fire was passed down, as was knowledge. It required a mentor, a teacher, to place it in responsible hands. Thus is Black Lightning the last teacher to pass down instruction to the Tattooed Man. In FC #4, we will finally see Mark Richards reject ignorance and live up to his potential.

Final Crisis #4

Pages 1 - 3

We begin our look at the post-apocalypse (present-Apokalips?) with narration by the Ray. I was curious why GM went with the '90s iteration rather than the third version of the character, which GM himself is credited with re-imagining for the 2006 Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters series. Turns out that Ray was a traitor. Spoilers. Sorry.

The Ray narrates the first three pages. This is interesting in that he chronicles the conquest of the planet by Darkseid, not the happiest turn of events and somewhat out of place given that narration itself is often the salvation for our heroes against Darkseid's broken and distorted narrative. It's salvation for the Ray, at any rate, as past-tense narration means he's successfully survived to the present, story-wise.

Given GM's fascination with myth and supergod symbolism, I spent a good hour or two today looking up astrological links between planets, deities, and metallic substances, and trying to guess which ones GM associated with which members of the JLA. The Flash as Hermes/Mercury (the planet)/mercury (the substance) is obvious, and Martian Manhunter corresponds with Mars and iron, but Superman gets iffy. In All-Star Superman, he literally became one with the Sun, and we've seen a pure-gold Superman at the end of DC One Million, and yet Superman's position at the top of the superhero hierarchy suggests Jupiter/Zeus.

I bring this up because the Ray too straddles classification. On one hand, he's an Apollo, a being of pure light, but on the other hand, he functions much like Black Lightning in the previous chapter as a messenger of information, and will eventually be responsible for illuminating Metron's sigil across the planet. Perhaps it's handy, then, that the fourth page of issue one decided that knowledge, art, fire, and light were all symbolically synonymous. The Ray, Superman, Black Lightning, and the Flash might all be Apollos and Hermeses. Kind of makes the death of Batman, crusader of the night, a bit more inevitable now, doesn't it?

Ray refers to the moment when "everything cracked" and Anti-Life went global,but the story itself was coming apart at the seams far earlier, and it's only now that it's beginning to repair itself. 

GM shows Anti-Life infecting people through airplane informational screens, subway schedule broadcasts, and mobile phones, but this attack would resonate far better in 2017 if it incorporated social media as well. Facebook and Youtube were well and around in 2008, but society was hardly as inundated and hopelessly addicted as it is now (and as it may further become). Given that such inundation of information through technology was one of the inspirations for the themes in Multiversity, I can only imagine GM would've jumped on that message for Final Crisis if it had been published today. Mankind, enslaved through smart phones and social media, and wholly deserving of it.

Page 4

Mark Richards, the Tattooed Man, gets dumped inside the Hall of Justice at the feet of Green Arrow (quite literally). Providing the context Submit so badly needed, Arrow goes off disparaging Richards as a "bad guy" - not merely a villain, but "cannon fodder" for the smarter villains. Quick to react to such prejudice, Richards agonizes, "Superheroes!" Funny that while Green Arrow was the sympathetic hippie to the authoritarian Green Lantern in the classic issue #76, in Final Crisis it's Green Arrow who's the bigot (against supervillains) and Hal Jordan who's at the mercy of authority in the form of the Alpha Lanterns.

I'm finally beginning to understand why I found this book so hard to follow. This idea that the villain's evil was affecting the very narrative itself would never have occurred to me, not if I read the book a hundred times. My mind just doesn't work that way - I'm too superficial of a thinker.

I wouldn't necessarily claim my mind does work that way. When I first read Final Crisis, I hated it. In fact, that's true for most of Morrison's work. 

But the sheer enormity and complexity lingers in my mind. I'm always aware he's intended much more in his writing than I've picked up on, though I'm usually ignorant of what that is on the first reading, but eventually curiosity draws me back for another go.

The second time, knowing what to expect from the basic structure, I notice more details - the early setups and hints at later plot points, the mentions of throwaway concepts that suddenly reappear years later in a more fleshed-out form, the repetition of themes. The more I notice, the more satisfied I am with the experience.

When I dive in once more, I do my research. I go to reviews, analyses, and interviews. I find as many resources that may enhance my reading experience.

Then sometimes I notice things other people had missed.

Like Multiversity: Pax Americana, the reverse chronology of the story? Aside from creating a mobius loop in how the story is read front to back and then back to front again, I figured there had to be an in-story reason, and then it dawned on me: Captain Atom himself reversed the chronology of the comic, per Haley's wish to be brought back to life. (I wish I could find confirmation from GM on this, but I haven't seen anyone pose this theory to him yet.)

The Baron said:

I'm finally beginning to understand why I found this book so hard to follow. This idea that the villain's evil was affecting the very narrative itself would never have occurred to me, not if I read the book a hundred times. My mind just doesn't work that way - I'm too superficial of a thinker.

The thing to keep in mind with Grant Morrison is that, for most of his work, if not all, nothing is done half-assed. Everything is intentional, every line of dialogue potentially matters, every panel and every angle. He often personally sketches out the cover concepts too.

There is always a reason, and it's always worth asking "why?" to find it.

Bleh, kind of got sidetracked, gearing up for a vacation for two weeks in which I may have too much free time to continue this analysis, or the opposite of that.

In any case, I plan to get back to it, while also capping off Return of Bruce Wayne #6, which didn't get covered in that thread, and JLA: Crisis Times Five and World War III. Basically I want to plug in any holes Figs didn't get to before he got spirited off the the Fifth World.

First of all, Michael, very glad to see you pick up the baton on this thread and take it forward.  I'd love to see this one, in particular finished as Final Crisis really merits a deep look from as many different angles as possible.

I think, in retrospect it is something different to what it was perceived as at the time.

I would like to add a bit to some of your comments above, but it is late here now, so maybe one day soon.

I meant to write more tonight, but I started by thinking that we'd already discussed Morrison's JLA/JSA crossover - Crisis Times Five - somewhere on the board.  I eventually found it and got sucked into reading much of the very long thread.  It wasn't on one of my Morrison threads. It is a reading project for 70 years of JSA comics from the 1940s to 2011!

Anywhere, here is the section on the JLA issues, if you are interested.

Welcome again to the board.  Loved your commentary above, and hope to read plenty more!

The return of the king!

While I started and then stopped, I am reading and rereading pretty much nothing but Morrison in my spare time, so it's not like I'm far from the thoughts begun in this thread. I'm actually trying to take inspiration from his "Infinite Book" to write a work of my own (I'm a music composer in my spare time).

Your reply has legitimately inspired me to perhaps keep plugging away at this thread, and others.

Incidentally, I think we're in nearly the same time zone. You're Australian, I think? I'm an American resident in Korea.

Man, it would be such a fantasy come true for me to have a New Gods book, written by Grant Morrison with art by Pascal Ferry.

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